If you were to ask M and me, separately, the story of how we met, you’re going to get two very different versions. And it’s all because of Fish & Chips and their associates on any standard pub grub menu.
In my memory, the fateful encounter happened on a rowdy St Patrick’s evening six years ago, on the fringe of a tiny table hemmed in by what seemed like Singapore’s entire expatriate community. There was a band in full swing, a never-ending supply of Guinness and draft beer, and it took forever for the server to return with your credit card after you paid the bill. It was a Wednesday night, but felt like a Friday, imbued with a sense of carpe diem, when nothing else mattered except the Here and Now.
It was my first St Patrick’s Day celebration, courtesy of T, an Irish co-worker who wouldn’t have anything else but a roaring good time on March 17. An enthusiasm that you couldn’t help but absorb while in her presence. Strategically securing a highly-coveted table and chairs at one of many Irish pubs in the financial district, we had ample space to snack on pub food while downing our drinks to the tune of Irish folk songs that the band played. It was all well and good when two guys turned up.
They were friends of P, an Italian-Canadian (who is more Italian than Canadian actually, but that’s another story).
One was A the Turk, unshaven in a trendy way, sporting a thick rug of curls and black-rimmed glasses. The other was M the French, of fair complexion and unassumingly dressed in a t-shirt that had seen better days. Introductions were made and handshakes exchanged, along with the usual fare of polite conversation. We eventually found ourselves swept up, hand-in-hand, in an Irish folk-dance. There was a lot of circling of the band and stepping left and right while attempting to kick our legs as high as was humanly possible, after four glasses of wine, ending the evening on a breathless note.
Four days later, we re-grouped for brunch at P’s. In walked M, with his hand outstretched, a smile on his face, introducing himself.
“Yes I know, we’ve met before”, I replied, matter-of-factly.
Hardly the type of response that he, after stepping out of his introvert’s shell, was expecting.
As it turned out, our previous meeting was lost in the haze of Guinness consumed from a St Patrick’s Day pub crawl that didn’t involve a bite of food. Which is perfectly fine if you’re not planning on meeting your life partner. But if you are, it wouldn’t hurt to take a bite or two of some pub grub to take the edge off. Because you never really know when that special person will walk in (or fall into your lap) and I’m guessing that you won’t want to miss it.
So, in honor of this memory and the greasy, comforting delights of pub grub, here’s a deliciously familiar fish and chips recipe from the UK’s favorite chef. The batter’s as thick and crisp as you could possibly dream about, the perfect counterfoil to the tender rock cod encased in its golden shell. And those chips. Ah. Just try to resist snacking on them while cooking. I couldn’t.
About 2 cups sunflower or peanut oil, for deep-frying
For the fish:
4 ounces/ 113 grams all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
11 fl ounces/ 300 ml good wheat beer or ale
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 ounces/ 113 grams firm white fish fillets, bones and scales removed (I used rock cod, but you could also use haddock or flounder, if available)
Salt and Pepper
For the chips:
2 pounds/ 1 kilogram russet potatoes, peeled and sliced into three-inch strips
1 green onion and a few stalks of parsley, minced, to garnish (optional)
Begin with the chips. Rinse and leave the chips to dry on paper towels while you heat the oil to 275F/ 140C in your deep-fryer or a large frying pan.
Fry the potatoes (in batches if need be), until the edges begin to brown, then remove them and drain on paper towels while you prepare the fish. Turn the heat up to bring the oil to 375F/ 190C and pre-heat the oven to 325F/ 175C.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and beer until you get a smooth batter that should thickly coat the back of a spoon. Season the fish fillets on both sides, dust in a bit of flour then dip into the batter, allowing any excess to drip off before putting them in the oil. Depending on the size of your fryer or pan, you might have to cook the fish one by one to avoid over-crowding.
Cook each fillet for about 4 minutes, until the batter is crisp and golden, then place them on a baking tray and put them in the pre-heated oven to keep warm while you finish off the chips.
Keeping the oil at the same temperature, throw in the chips and cook, for about 2 to 3 minutes, until they’re golden and crisp on the outside, and drain on kitchen paper. Season with a sprinkling of salt and the green onion and parsley garnish, if it suits your fancy.
Serve warm, with the fish and a side of tartar sauce, a squeeze of lemon and some drops of malt vinegar, all washed down with your favorite beverage.
“There are only two kinds of people in the world, The Irish and those who wish they were.”